Final Tour: May 2016

How they were lost, & what we can do now

By Dale Stockton  |   Jun 2, 2016
Photo Courtesy Dale Stockton

Seven officers died in the line of duty during the month of May, bringing the total loss for 2016 to 39.

Although the loss of these officers was the ultimate tragedy for their families and agencies, May has historically been much deadlier for law enforcement. Ironically, the same month we pause to honor our fallen has often seen the highest level of loss. In both 2013 and 2014, May was the deadliest month during the entire year. In 2015, May was one of three months tied for the most fatalities.

So far in 2016, 19 officers have been killed by assailant gunfire; 15 have died in vehicle-related incidents; two died as the result of a heart attack; one was lost in an aircraft crash; one was killed by accidental (“friendly”) gunfire; and one succumbed to injuries after being thrown from a horse.

On behalf of everyone at Calibre Press, I extend the deepest condolences to those who have lost an officer. Listed in order of occurrence, following are summaries of the losses for May.

Sergeant Jorge Ramos, 39, Florida Department of Corrections, died two days after collapsing during a statewide Correctional Emergency Response Team competition being hosted at the Sumter Correctional Institution, in Bushnell, Fla. He was transported to Tampa General Hospital where he remained until passing away. Ramos had served with the Florida DOC for nine years and was assigned to the South Florida Reception Center. He is survived by his wife and young daughter.

Investigator T.J. Freeman, 29, Bibb County (Ga.) Police Department, died after his patrol car was rammed by a suspect vehicle during a pursuit at approximately 3:00 a.m. Another deputy had initiated the pursuit after encountering the suspicious vehicle that contained a wanted subject. During the pursuit, the fleeing vehicle struck Freeman’s vehicle. He was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. His canine partner was in the vehicle at the time but was not injured. The wanted subject was taken into custody with minor injuries from the collision. Freeman had served with the Macon Police Department and the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office for a total of seven years and was assigned to the Narcotics Division. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Detective Brad Lancaster, 39, Kansas City (Kan.) Police Department, was shot and killed while assisting patrol officers who had responded to a suspicious person call at the Hollywood Casino at approximately 12:20 p.m. The suspect had fled from responding officers on foot but was located by Lancaster in a nearby field. The man opened fire, striking Lancaster twice. The suspect fled in the detective’s unmarked vehicle and then carjacked another vehicle a short distance away, abducting two children who were in the backseat. The suspect subsequently carjacked another vehicle and drove into Kansas City, Mo., where he was located by officers. The suspect crashed during a pursuit and tried to carjack another vehicle, shooting a citizen before he was stopped by police gunfire and taken into custody. Lancaster had served with Kansas City Police Department for 10 years and had previously served with the Platte County Sheriff’s Office for 10 years.

Officer David Glasser, 34, Phoenix (Ariz.) Police Department, died as the result of gunshot wounds sustained the previous day when he responded to a residential burglary in progress. The homeowner had called 911 to report that his son was stealing items from the home. As officers arrived on scene they encountered the son sitting in a van in the driveway. The subject opened fire on the officers, striking Glasser. Other officers returned fire and killed the subject. Glasser was transported to a local hospital where he remained in critical condition until succumbing to his wounds the following day. Glasser had served with the Phoenix Police Department for 12 years and was assigned to the Neighborhood Enforcement Team. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Officer Sean Johnson, 46, Hilliard (Ohio) Police Department, was killed in a motorcycle crash while taking part in a department motorcycle training program. He had recently transferred from the Patrol Bureau to the Traffic Safety Unit. Johnson and three other members of the unit were participating in a two-week-long motorcycle training program. As Officer Johnson traveled on the ramp from I-270 south to S.R. 161 east he was involved in a collision and sustained fatal injuries. Johnson served with the Hilliard Division of Police for 16 years and had previously served with the Ohio Investigative Unit, the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office, and the United States Air Force. He is survived by his mother and two children.

Officer Ronald Tarentino, 42, Auburn (Mass.) Police Department, was shot and killed while conducting a traffic stop at approximately 12:30 a.m. An occupant of the vehicle opened fire on him as he approached the car, striking him multiple times. He was transported to University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center where he succumbed to his wounds. The subject who shot him fled the scene, but was later located at an Oxford apartment building. Officers searched the apartment where they believed the subject was hiding and discovered a secret passage into an adjoining apartment. As the officers made entry into the second apartment, the subject exited a closet and opened fire, wounding a Massachusetts State Police tactical team trooper before being killed. Tarentino had served with the Auburn Police Department for two years and had previously served with the Leicester Police Department for seven years. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Deputy Michael Winters, 39, Branch County (Mich.) Sheriff’s Office, succumbed to injuries sustained the previous day when he was thrown from his horse while on a special detail at the Memorial Day Parade in Quincy, Mich. Something spooked his horse, causing it to buck. Winters was thrown from the horse and suffered a severe head injury. He was flown to a hospital in Indiana where he remained on life support until the following day so that his organs could be donated.

An Overall Look at 2016

Five months of 2016 are now behind us and losses continue to trend lower than last year, despite an increased level of hostility directed at law enforcement. It’s definitely a challenging time to be wearing a badge and the job is certainly not getting easier or safer. Better tactics, increased use of body armor, improved emergency medical capabilities and the use of self/buddy treatment have all contributed to lowering our losses. Preventable line-of-duty deaths are trending downward, a positive sign that officers are taking increased responsibility for officer safety areas under their control.

As we approach midyear, it’s encouraging that we’re currently tracking to sustain an annual loss of less than 100 officers, something that has not happened since 1943. This is remarkable progress and we should build upon it, refusing to accept any loss as normal or acceptable. It is the responsibility of every officer, especially those involved in training or supervision, to objectively review every LODD or serious injury and share the information that can help prevent a recurrence.

After reviewing all of our losses thus far this year, here are some recommendations.

Consider Tactics

A passenger-side approach during traffic stops often provides increased officer safety and a tactical advantage, especially at night. Watch for warning signs on traffic stops like the brake lights staying on–a frequent indicator that the driver intends to either flee or attack. Use caution when responding to incidents reported to be in progress and don’t waive cover when common sense would dictate the need for another officer.

Remember that concealment is not cover, a critical consideration when gunfire is involved, especially from rifles. Adhere to the principles of “contact-and-cover” when working with other officers. (If you don’t know about this time-tested basic of officer safety, use Google to run it down. It works and should be in every officer’s tactical toolbox.)

High-Risk Activities

Gunfire is currently the leading cause of death for 2016. Several of our losses this year have occurred when officers were involved in high risk activities like warrant service, responding to a subject with a gun and taking a wanted felon into custody. Police operations always have a level of inherent risk but we have lost officers in situations where there were clear indicators of significant danger before they turned deadly. Different tactics, better cover or slowing a situation down can save lives.

Remember the saying made popular by the Navy SEALS: Don’t run to your death.

Use Your Safety Gear

Too many officers are lost because they fail to use their most basic piece of safety gear: their seatbelt. The myth of the Ninja Assassin has killed far too many and it’s time to acknowledge that the best way to survive a career in law enforcement is to use your seatbelt.

After the seatbelt, body armor is probably the most important piece of safety equipment for police officers. There is no denying that today’s officers are operating in a very hostile environment and malicious assaults have become more frequent. Body armor should be mandatory for every uniformed officer, including administrators. This includes any time you are in uniform or driving a marked unit, even if you’re not on patrol. Remember, the bad guys don’t know that you’re on a training day or assigned to administration. Body armor works but only if you wear it.

Finally, use your reflective gear when common sense indicates that being seen is important. Far too many officers have been seriously injured or killed because they were struck by vehicles. Reflective gear can reduce that risk. Like your armor, it only works when you wear it.

Think WIN – What’s Important Now?

There’s so much in our environment that competes for our attention that it’s easy to become distracted. The Below 100 tenet of WIN squarely targets situational awareness and prioritization. Officers must be fully aware of the evolving circumstances and continually reassess their situation. Thinking WIN can save your life.

Remember: Complacency Kills!

When it comes to complacency, the reality is that complacency dramatically increases the danger of almost any police action or engagement. Improved training and tactics are showing significant benefit, but complacency is an insidious threat that can turn any situation deadly in an instant.

Courageous Conversations

If you know an officer who tends to push the envelope or take unnecessary chances, take the time to tell them that you care and that their family and department needs them. Point out that they’re actually endangering others who may have to come to their rescue. Confronting a fellow officer is never easy, but it’s far better than going to their funeral. Don’t wait because you may not get a second chance.

Honor the Fallen

Those who have paid with their lives would not want us to repeat their mistakes and we must honor the fallen by training the living. That’s the only way we can continue to improve officer safety. We know that those who have made the ultimate sacrifice would want nothing less. Below 100 is a program that embraces common sense officer safety by focusing on five core tenets:

  • Wear your belt.
  • Wear your vest.
  • Watch your speed.
  • WIN – What’s Important Now?
  • Remember: Complacency Kills!

Conclusion

The reality of policing is that not every LODD is preventable, but we’ve lost way too many officers where use of safety equipment or common sense could have prevented a tragedy. Every LODD or serious injury should serve as a survival lesson for the living. Have the courageous conversation with those who need to embrace the tenets of Below 100 and model the behavior as an example to others. The life you save may be your own! For more information visit Below 100. Special thanks to the Officer Down Memorial Page for their assistance in providing line-of-duty death information that forms the basis for the Final Tour series.

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Dale Stockton is the former editor in chief of Law Officer magazine, and a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the California Supervisory Leadership Institute, the FBI Southwest Command College and holds a graduate degree from the University of California School of Criminology, Law and Society. He has served as a Commissioner for California POST, the agency responsible for all California policing standards. Stockton has been nationally recognized as the most widely published public safety photographer and writer in the country and taught college level criminal justice classes for 20 years. He has presented nationally at conferences in partnership with the National Institute of Justice and International Association of Chiefs of Police. Stockton is a founder, core instructor and current board member of Below 100. You can follow him on Twitter @DaleStockton.

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